Those Left Behind
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Like most life-changing events, nobody saw it coming. Least of all Josh. He never thought Adam would ever die. Well, deep down he knew. Everyone dies in the end, right? But the idea of Adam leaving this world through choice, because he wanted to, never entered his thinking.
On reflection, maybe that was because he didn't want it to. They'd been best friends all their lives. Inseparable. Or at least as long as they both could remember. They were the same age, and lived just two streets apart. They went to the same schools and knew the same people. It was them against the world.
Until Adam had enough and jumped off the top of the multi-story car park in the town centre one rainy Tuesday evening.
After The Event, Josh spent a lot of time wrestling with survivor guilt. What could he have done to stop it? Why hadn't he realized something was terribly wrong with his friend's mental state?He hadn't even known he was depressed. Didn't recognize the signs. What kind of shitty friend did that make him?
The funeral was a waking nightmare. It seemed like half the town came out, as they often did when young people died. Something about the injustice of it all. They lined the streets, heads bowed, secretly glad it wasn't someone closer to them. Predictably, Adam's parents and little sister were utterly destroyed, as were most of his extended family. All those distant relatives you only saw at funerals and weddings.
You can't help but sympathise with suicide victims. What kind of torment must they be suffering to sink so low, to see only one, definitive, final answer to life's questions?
People rarely spared a thought for the real victims, the ones left behind to pick up the pieces.
The only person able to keep it together at the funeral was Meg, Adam's girlfriend. She wasn't just brave, she was defiant. Even though she must have been dying inside, throughout the service she stood ramrod straight, chin in the air. Her efforts were even more admirable given the fact that her own best friend had died in an accident the previous year. She fell out of the window of their university dormitory after they'd been drinking. Meg was with her when it happened. How much bad luck can one girl have?
Josh tried to follow Meg's example, but failed dismally and kept breaking down. At one point his legs couldn't even support his weight and he slumped into the chair, weeping like a child.
It wasn't just sorrow and grief. That was to be expected. Nor was it the burden of guilt. No, what shocked him most was the simmering resentment. It was so strong, sometimes bordering on anger. He felt cheated, as if Adam had broken some kind of pact. If Josh bumped into him in afterlife, the first thing he was going to do was punch him in the face. Have that, you selfish prick.
Because Meg was a rock through the whole traumatic experience, it came as something of a surprise when Josh received a text message from her one afternoon.
I can't deal. Can we meet? Need to talk.
Josh was happy to oblige. He too had a lot to get off his chest. Nothing anyone said would change anything, but maybe just venting to someone who understood the situation would make him feel better. She wanted to meet at the multi-storey where Adam had ended his life. Wow. Talk about facing your demons.
It was a chilly, wet evening, a perfect reflection of Josh's mood. He borrowed his dad's car and drove to the multi-storey, where he parked in one of the bays on the ground floor. At this late hour, the place was deserted. As he climbed out of the car and locked the door behind him, he heard the scuffle of feet behind him. He turned to see Meg step out of the shadows.
“You came,” she said, her voice thick and strained. Had she been crying? Of course she had. Her hard exterior must be just that, a front.
“Why here?” Josh asked.
“I...” Meg began, and that was all she could manage. The floodgates opened and she began to sob.
Josh wrapped her in a consoling hug. “What can I do?”
“Take me to the roof. I want to see where he did it.”
Even after Adam's suicide, the roof was easy to get to. You could take the stairs right up to the top of the building, and access the roof via a fire door. It was windy up there, the seasonal chill slicing through Josh's pullover.
Meg walked to the edge, where a waist-high safety barrier was the only thing between her and a seventy-feet drop. The very same barrier Adam had stepped over. Down below, traffic and pedestrians hurried by, oblivious to the unfolding drama.
“Be careful,” Josh warned. “It's so windy up here.”
“It's okay,” Meg answered as she looked down onto the street. “It was worse the night Adam died.”
Josh frowned. “You were here?”
“Yeah. Where else would I have been?”
“I don't know. I thought you were... somewhere else. What did he say?”
“He told me he would love me forever.”
Meg moved closer to him. Josh looked into her eyes, and was sure something passed between them. Some indefinable flicker. A spark. Were they going to kiss? Was this to be the ultimate expression of grief?
Did he always have feelings for her? And her for him?
So many questions.
Suddenly they were embracing, and all the heartache and pain melted away. Josh could smell her hair and perfume. In that moment, nothing else mattered. He closed his eyes, and leaned in to find Meg's lips. She placed her hands on his chest.
Then, she shoved him. Hard. Josh toppled over the safety barrier and plummeted to the ground.
He was too shocked to scream.
C.M. Saunders is a freelance journalist and editor. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in over 60 magazines, ezines and anthologies worldwide, including Loaded, Record Collector, Fantastic Horror, Trigger Warning, Gore, Liquid imagination, and the Literary Hatchet. His books have been both traditionally and independently published, the most recent being Human Waste and his latest collection X3, both of which are available now on Deviant Dolls Publications.
If you are interested in reading more of C.M Saunder's work, you can check out X here.